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Technology is still in the doghouse, at least among law firm associates who were asked to name the most prestigious law firms in the United States and Europe. The four Silicon Valley-based law firms to land among the most prestigious firmsin “The Vault Guide to the Top 100 Law Firms,” each lost ground in the past year. Released Monday, the sixth annual Vault guide surveyed 11,908 associates at 130 law firms this spring about their views on job satisfaction, treatment by partners, training, pay and diversity. The guide slices and dices their replies to rank firms based on prestige and quality of life. Associates are asked to score their own firms on quality of life issues but can only rate other firms — not their own � when it comes to prestige. It’s also a place for associates to be frank. Remarked one about Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom: “People come here for the money” because the pay at Skadden “can’t be beat!” Skadden ranked third when it came to compensation. New York firms continue to grab the spotlight on the prestige survey, taking eight of the top 10 slots. Los Angeles-based Latham & Watkins held onto its ninth place. Washington, D.C.-based Covington & Burling was the other non-New Yorker in the top 10. There was an upset at the top, however. Mergers and acquisitions specialist Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz is now the nation’s most prestigious law firm, unseating Cravath, Swaine & Moore, according to the survey. Brook Gesser, senior editor at Vault Inc., said the shift had more to do with a growing awareness of Watchtell’s work than with any misstep by Cravath. “Wachtell has always been No. 1 on the New York list,” Gesser said. “The [firm's] reputation has caught on around the country.” Silicon Valley firms may have lost prestige because of their close ties to technology companies rather than anything the firms have done, she said. “A few years back they were really the hottest firms in the country,” Gesser said. “I think the drop in those firms’ prestige is very much tied to the change in the economy.” Among the tech firms, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati took the biggest hit, falling 14 slots to 45th place. The Palo Alto corporate specialist, which handled more initial public offerings during the Internet boom than any other firm, had landed in 10th place in the 2001 Vault guide. Cooley Godward, Fenwick & West and Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich also lost ground. Cooley fell 10 spaces to 56, Fenwick slipped nine places to 82, and Gray Cary fell seven places to 85. Firms have plenty of chances to move around on the many lists contained in the 744-page guide. Morrison & Foerster, for example, slipped three places on the prestige chart to 27 and then fell again on another high-profile ranking, Best Firms to Work For. After being ranked as the best law firm in the nation to work for last year, MoFo had to settle with second place in the current guide. Despite the drop, associates gushed about MoFo. “The partners that I consider to be my mentors constantly check in with me to see how things are going and if I like what I’m doing,” one associate said. Further, the firm is considered “relaxed, friendly, informal and accepting of difference in personality and lifestyle.” Winston & Strawn is now the best firm to work for, according to associates. Among Bay Area firms, Gray Cary and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe landed among the 20 best firms to work for, taking 15th and 16th place, respectively. Keith Wetmore, MoFo’s chairman, said the survey had to be wrong and joked that the change in lineup had to be a statistical error. “We was robbed,” he said. On a more serious note, Wetmore said the high marks are the result of the firm’s honest approach with its associates about how the firm and the market are doing. “In troubled waters, a large part of the mission of law firm management is to be honest about what people are doing,” Wetmore said. “Recessions are not the big happy periods.” See related chart: Prestige Rankings

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